Halt to Howard build­ing sought

Post-flood freeze would stop de­vel­op­ment around El­li­cott City

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Fa­timah Waseem

The Howard County Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing a mea­sure that would tem­po­rar­ily halt com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment around El­li­cott City af­ter July’s deadly flash flood in the his­toric mill town.

Coun­cil­man Jon We­in­stein, who rep­re­sents El­li­cott City, said he pro­posed the build­ing freeze so that the county could crit­i­cally ex­am­ine whether de­vel­op­ment “poses ad­di­tional threats to the safety of peo­ple, busi­nesses and prop­erty.”

His pro­posal would stop new de­vel­op­ment in the Tiber-Hudson wa­ter­shed for nine months. The Tiber and Hudson streams, which feed into the Pat­ap­sco River, over­flowed dur­ing the flood.

Andy Barth, spokesman for County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man, de­clined to take a po­si­tion on the bill, say­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­view­ing it.

“We’ll need to study more to come to a de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Barth said.

Mean­while, Howard County of­fi­cials are look­ing at the im­pact of de­vel­op­ment on the area’s wa­ter­ways. The county is con­duct­ing hy­draulic stud­ies of the wa­ter­shed and other analy­ses that will also ex­am­ine how flood­ing is af­fected by de­vel­op­ment.

We­in­stein said he be­lieves de­vel­op­ment con­trib­uted to the July 30 flood, which killed two peo­ple, af­fected nearly 90 busi­nesses and dis­placed 190 res­i­dents. With de­vel­op­ment, stormwa­ter runoff rushes off roofs and park­ing lots rather than be­ing ab­sorbed into the ground.

The pro­posed mora­to­rium would ap­ply to the ap­proval of build­ing and grad­ing per­mits but ex­empt per­mits for re­con­struc­tion needed af­ter a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, such as flood­ing.

Valdis Lazdins, di­rec­tor of the Howard County De­part­ment of Plan­ning and Zon­ing, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t de­ter­mined how many projects would be af­fected.

De­vel­op­ers have sub­mit­ted more than 100 pro­pos­als to build homes, shop­ping cen­ters and other build­ings in less than three square miles around El­li­cott City since 2001, and most ap­pli­ca­tions have been ap­proved. Dozens of those de­vel­op­ments are near the Tiber and Hudson streams.

Barth noted that any new de­vel­op­ment would be sub­ject to var­i­ous stormwa­ter con­trols re­quire­ments.

“The county will need to de­ter­mine through the stud­ies un­der­way the con­tri­bu­tion to flood­ing by older de­vel­op­ment ver­sus newer de­vel­op­ment,” Barth said.

Howard County of­fi­cials and others, in­clud­ing We­in­stein, say no amount of flood man­age­ment could have stopped the storm’s ef­fects.

“We can’t stop six-and-a-half inches of rain fall­ing from the sky in two hours,” We­in­stein said. “Wa­ter will go where wa­ter will go.”

But many res­i­dents have raised con­cerns about the pace of de­vel­op­ment in the area. The river town was de­signed in 1772 to sup­port a flour mill by speed­ing up the flow of wa­ter that cour­ses un­der the low-ly­ing dis­trict’s build­ings.

Com­pared to other ju­ris­dic­tions in the state, Howard County has a high por­tion of land ded­i­cated for de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by the Mary­land De­part­ment of Plan­ning, nearly 51per­cent of the land in the county is de­vel­oped.

The area tar­geted for the mora­to­rium ex­tends south of Bon­nie Branch Road, north of In­ter­state 70 and west of U.S. 29 in some places, bor­dered by the Pat­ap­sco River to the east, ac­cord­ing to a map at­tached to the leg­is­la­tion.

Sev­eral projects have sub­mit­ted new ap­pli­ca­tions for sub­di­vi­sions or de­vel­op­ment since July 1.

One pro­posal that lies within the zone out­lined in the bill — to cre­ate 13 new sin­gle-fam­ily lots on Church Road in the El­li­cott City his­toric dis­trict — is slated to go be­fore the Plan­ning Board next week. En­gi­neer and land­scape ar­chi­tect Stephanie Tuite, a part­ner at a con­sult­ing firm in­volved in the project, said it’s too early to tell if the leg­is­la­tion would af­fect the site’s de­vel­op­ment time­line, which is still far from con­struc­tion-ready.

“It is a con­cern but it’s not an im­me­di­ate con­cern for us,” said Tuite, of the firm Fisher, Collins and Carter Inc.

Tuite added that while she also wor­ries about flood­ing, she’s not sure about the bill. “I know what they’re try­ing to achieve, but I don’t know that it will achieve what they’re try­ing to achieve,” she said.

Katie Maloney, chief lob­by­ist for the Mary­land Build­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, said she has not read the leg­is­la­tion but that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is gen­er­ally con­cerned about mora­to­ri­ums, which cre­ate back­logs and can be costly for de­vel­op­ers.

New con­struc­tion of­ten must fol­low stricter stormwa­ter re­stric­tions im­ple­mented in re­cent years, which she said helps to ad­dress the prob­lem.

“We be­lieve it’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to halt de­vel­op­ment just for the sake of try­ing to re­solve a flood­ing is­sue,” she said. “We think the prob­lem is much deeper.”

But a tem­po­rary halt to new con­struc­tion could give of­fi­cials time to as­sess the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem and the ad­e­quacy of cur­rent stormwa­ter rules, said Bob Smith, a Columbia-based prin­ci­pal at the NAI KLNB real es­tate bro­ker­age, who fo­cuses on com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial prop­er­ties.

“A mora­to­rium based on new de­vel­op­ment within the wa­ter­shed is prob­a­bly a ra­tio­nal ap­proach,” he said.

By de­sign and to­pog­ra­phy, El­li­cott City is prone to flood­ing.

Twice in the past five years, the streams that feed into the Pat­ap­sco River have over­flowed, rais­ing con­cerns about stormwa­ter runoff from de­vel­op­ment in and around the Tiber-Hudson wa­ter­shed.

But stormwa­ter runoff from new de­vel­op­ment is only part of the chal­lenge.

Older de­vel­op­ments were built at a time when state and fed­eral reg­u­la­tions re­quired lit­tle to no stormwa­ter man­age­ment, stud­ies show.

Twenty years ago, state and fed­eral reg­u­la­tions fo­cused on man­ag­ing the quan­tity, not the qual­ity, of runoff.

That ap­proach used a curb and gut­ter sys­tem to move stormwa­ter off of streets and build­ings as quickly as pos­si­ble, dis­charg­ing runoff into wa­ter bod­ies, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion.

Since then, the state has shifted to re­quir­ing larger stormwa­ter con­trols like ponds and man-made struc­tures de­signed to catch and hold wa­ter.

The unique chal­lenge in the his­toric dis­trict is that stormwa­ter man­age­ment must ex­tend out­side the flood-prone area. “The work has to be done out­side the dis­trict if we want to catch the rain and keep it there,” We­in­stein said. “We have to fol­low the trib­u­taries along the way.”

Of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged the county’s ap­proach to han­dling stormwa­ter runoff has been piece­meal in some parts of the county.

As it works on long-term so­lu­tions, Barth said the county is in­stalling tem­po­rary curb and gut­ter struc­tures and ex­pand­ing storm drains to re­duce the im­pact of storms in the area.

Ear­lier this year, We­in­stein and Kit­tle­man es­tab­lished a work group to ex­plore ways to en­cour­age busi­nesses to man­age stormwa­ter runoff.

Kit­tle­man also es­tab­lished a work­group to ex­am­ine flood con­trol tac­tics in his­toric El­li­cott City. That group’s rec­om­men­da­tions, sub­mit­ted late last year, will guide the county’s fu­ture strat­egy, Barth said.

He added that much of t he county’s flood-mit­i­ga­tion work will de­pend on whether or not the county re­ceives fed­eral dis­as­ter aid.

While t he county has al­ready be­gun re­search into the flow of wa­ter drain­ing from the wa­ter­shed, We­in­stein hopes a mora­to­rium would al­low for even more study.

“A mora­to­rium now al­lows us to take a step back and look at this is­sue more com­pre­hen­sively,” he said.

The coun­cil will hear tes­ti­mony on the bill dur­ing its Sept. 19 meet­ing in the Ge­orge Howard build­ing in El­li­cott City.

“I know what they’re try­ing to achieve, but I don’t know that it will achieve what they’re try­ing to achieve.”

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